Maddie Elder meets the brains behind DIBS by Culture Shock, Bogota’s newest cultural space, showcasing the best in local urban art and regenerating the city’s neighbourhoods
The latest fixture in Bogota’s buzzing graffiti scene sits just a short climb up the hill from La Candelaria’s main attractions. DIBS by Colombia Culture Shock is an urban art gallery, gift shop and design consultancy, housing an assortment of original works, screen-prints, comics, photographs, postcards, and clothes, predominantly by local artists.
The gallery presents a unique, new model to legitimise the artists responsible for the familiar creations we so often see when exploring Bogota’s streets.
Famed Bogota grafitero Guache’s ‘Virgin Corn’ print proudly hangs framed on one wall; Lik Mi’s eccentric mobiles dangle, while the inviting space is book-ended by two enormous oil paintings of ancestral masks by Yurika.
Creating peaceful communities
In April, Rey attended the World Summit on Arts and Culture for Peace which focused on the role that art plays in conflict resolution and peace-building. There he was the personal translator for the Godfather of hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa.
He is also in talks with Casa B, an organisation centred around ‘promoting and supporting cultural and social processes’ in the Bogota barrio of Belen, with a view to bridging communities through collaborative projects.
An event at the normally dilapidated Parque de la Concordia in the upper reaches of La Candelaria last year attracted more than 300 people from the surrounding area. A concert, breakdancing competition and art event transformed the park into a bustling hub of festivity.
Children’s art workshops have also been held at a hostel next to the gallery, supervised by top Bogota artists.
Rey explains: “We have to start creating when we are kids. That impulse to create can’t die out. I like the idea of kids getting to exercise their mind a bit, getting to do new things, especially creative things.”
I visited the space, which has been open for two months, to meet the brains behind the operation and gallery owner, Rey García. Slovenian beats float through the open, colonial windows while white sage cleanses the air.
A respectable stream of customers drift in and out – some from the graffiti tour (see below) Rey guided earlier that day, others simply passing by.
Rey – Buenaventura-born, Wisconsin-raised – came to Bogota in 2012 to a burgeoning graffiti scene. Already an art enthusiast, with past experience in film editing and mixed media, coming home sparked a new and overwhelming passion for graffiti.
“I would document everything I saw, film everything and I guess it snowballed from there,” he tells me.
When his personal collection could no longer squeeze into his room, he decided to focus his efforts on curating.
“You will see from the gallery I have a wide variety of tastes. It’s a real eclectic mix and the artwork I exhibit really has to resonate with me. The common theme it seems at the moment is high colour and animals.”
The gallery not only serves as an exhibition space and a gift shop though, he explains, there is something of a higher purpose behind his project.
Rey is keen to help local artists find street space and create safer areas for residents and visitors in La Candelaria. He scouts private property and speaks with the owners.
He enthuses, “If you have an unlit part of the neighbourhood then you put something really beautiful there. You flip it, you make people want to go look at it. That brings attention and makes the area safer”.
He also hopes to secure commissions for artists through his design consultancy. The final step though is to decentralise part of the gallery by leasing artwork to hotels, restaurants, bars or private collectors.
“If a serious collector or business isn’t sure yet, they can place it on their wall and look at it for a month or so to decide if they like it. It’s a way for an artist to make a monthly income as well.”
Yet his social conscience doesn’t only extend to filling artists’ pockets.
Cultivating a sense of community for the 48,000 residents of La Candelaria is a priority for Rey and his friends involved in the scene. Culture Shock Colombia hosts creative workshops for kids and organises cultural exchanges for adults.
Rey’s friend, Jahir Dimate, has also founded not-for-profit GIVE Events, an organisation providing English classes. All proceeds are invested in educating kids from the neighbourhood for free.
Explore Bogota graffiti
Whether it’s JADE’s lovers embracing over Centro, Rodez’s birds taking flight across Plaza del Chorro or Pez’s toothy smiles greeting you around a quiet corner, there is no escaping the vibrant colours adorning the walls of Colombia’s capital.
For most visitors to Bogota, that first drive along Calle 26 is a memorable initiation into the city’s graffiti and street art scene. The mish-mash of celebration, commentary and protest provides just a taste of what is to come.
Lax legislation and varied architecture have made Bogota a mecca for those with a spray can and creative eye.
The Bogota Graffiti Tour, having quickly climbed to the top of Tripadvisor’s list of things to do in the capital, is the perfect orientation to the city’s grafiteros, styles, and interpretations. Rey – along with Aussie artist Crisp and other guides – leads tourists around the winding streets of La Candelaria pointing out murals, tags, paste ups, stickers and stencil work while providing historical and political context to the creations.
The two-and-a-half hour tour leaves Parque de Los Periodistas at 10am and 2pm every day. While free, donations are welcome. Proceeds from Rey’s tours are invested in DIBS by Colombia Culture Shock and fund community events and local artists.
DIBS by Culture Shock Colombia is open from 1pm – 6pm everyday, including Sundays and public holidays. Prices of artwork range from COP$75,000 – COP $2,000,000.
Visit them in La Candelaria at Carrera 3 #11-24.
By Maddie Elder